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Originally published Saturday, March 17, 2012 at 4:44 PM

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Louisville's Siva's biggest assist was as a 13-year-old

Peyton Siva is more than a good basketball player. He is the kind of kid you want to get to know better.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Peyton Siva file

Age: 21 Height: 6-0

Position: Point guard

Hometown: Seattle

High school career: Led Franklin High to state titles in his freshman and senior years.

Recruiting: Also considered Washington, Arizona, Kentucky and Miami (Fla.) before deciding on Louisville.

College career: Averaging 9.3 points and 5.5 assists per game this season as a junior. Named MVP of the Big East tournament.

Did you know? Dunked for the first time in the 7th grade.

Source: University of Louisville

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PORTLAND — Living was becoming too difficult for Peyton Siva Sr. The drug and alcohol problems that plagued him, the weight of the world he was feeling, the depression that had haunted him for years had become too much.

Unable to find answers and believing there was no way out, he left the family's South Seattle home, got high, got drunk and seriously considered killing himself.

"At that point in time in my life it could have ended somewhere else and in a different way," he said before the start of his son's NCAA tournament run.

But 13-year-old Peyton Siva, now a junior at Louisville, wasn't about to let his dad quit. His mother told him where she suspected his father would be and the son drove his older brother's Dodge, found his dad on the street and convinced Peyton Sr. to throw the gun in the garbage.

"Stop being selfish," Siva said to his dad.

"He saved my life," Peyton Siva Sr. said.

The maturity, compassion, courage and love Peyton Siva showed for his father was life-affirming to the dad. Even back then, the younger Peyton was wise beyond his years. Even then, he was a leader.

"I chose to be there for him," Siva Sr. said looking out at the Rose Garden court, watching his son prepare and remembering that moment in his life. "And this is the reward right here. There's definitely a bond between us, and it's something I'm always going to cherish in my heart."

For the past decade, Seattle-area high schools have produced bunches of very good basketball players, and almost all of them are equally good human beings.

And then there's Peyton Siva from Franklin High School, who left town to play for Rick Pitino. He just may be the most exceptional of them all.

But when he talks about his role in saving his father's life, Siva is typically self-effacing.

"Any kid would have done it," he said after Friday's practice on the eve of a third-round NCAA matchup against New Mexico. "There's nothing spectacular about it. I was just doing what I could do to help. That's what happened."

After accepting the Big East tournament's Most Outstanding Player trophy a week ago in New York, Siva said of his father, "I know he's got my back and I've got his."

"What I meant," he said, "is I can talk to him whenever he's down. He knows I'm there for him. And I know if I'm going through something I can always call him.

"For him to be out at this tournament, it keeps him away from whatever it is that gets to him. It's so good to see him happy and good to see him so upbeat. It's good to see him in the stands and know that he's not on the street and not in any trouble."

Siva's dad, a construction worker, still lives in Seattle. He was in New York last weekend watching Louisville win the Big East tournament and he was in the Rose Garden, with his family and Seattle friends, for both of Louisville's NCAA tournament games.

"This is exciting, overwhelming really," said Siva Sr., wearing a red and black Louisville No. 3 Siva jersey. "I'm so proud to be here and share this moment with him. He's just a humble kid. Very outstanding and outgoing. It's a pleasure to be his dad."

Bible studies

Peyton Siva, 21, is a 6-foot point guard. A former McDonald's All-America selection, he averaged 18.1 points and 5.3 assists as a senior at Franklin.

But Siva is more than a good basketball player. He is the kind of kid you want to get to know better. He's the kind of interview you wish could go on much longer. You want to learn the secret to his calmness and the source of his wisdom.

"I've had the luxury and honor of coaching him from third grade on. He's a leader," said Daryll Hennings, who was Siva's AAU coach at Rotary Boys and Girls Club. "He was like the Pied Piper in Seattle. He had all the kids around him. He was a great ambassador, not just for basketball, but for everything he did in life. He's just special."

Louisville coach Rick Pitino practically sounded incredulous when he mentioned the fact that six of his players participate in Bible studies, because of Siva.

"Last year, I went down to see what those guys were watching on their TV sets and six of them were reading the Bible," Pitino said Friday. "I asked them what they were doing. Usually most of them are asleep. They told me they were studying the Bible and that Peyton was the leader of the group. He's an unusual person in that regard. Very spiritual.

"He's such an incredible, nice young man. Everybody he touches, you come away with a great impression of him. And it's very sincere. There's nothing phony about it. He's just a great guy. And believe me, he didn't grow up with a silver spoon in his mouth."

Pitino's son Richard, Louisville's associate coach, recruited Siva. Richard knew the story about Siva saving his father's life.

"That story doesn't surprise me, because he's an extremely special kid," Richard said. "He's as good of a kid as we've had in our program and my dad has said that he's as good of a kid as he's ever coached. He's going to be successful beyond basketball one day."

Ankle injury this season

This has been the kind of a season that has tested Siva's resolve. He has been hampered by a slow-healing ankle sprain that threatened his confidence. He was fighting the fact that he was hurt. His coaches said it was almost like he wouldn't admit that his bad ankle could affect his play. A weaker player might have succumbed to the injury and surrendered the season.

But Siva is too wise and too willing to learn.

At the end of the regular season, Rick Pitino called Siva into his office and they had a frank discussion.

"I'm going to tell you why you're struggling," Pitino said to him. "You just play at one pace, extremely fast. And because of that, you don't know how to probe. You have a lot of turnovers, because you don't know how to probe and change your pace."

Trying to change Siva's mindset, Pitino showed him a tape of NBA star point guard Steve Nash, telling Siva to pay attention to Nash's patience and changes of pace. Siva, a quick study and a District Academic all-American, understood almost immediately.

"He was brilliant in the Big East tournament," Pitino said, "and he was brilliant against Davidson (on Thursday) with his changing speeds. And for someone to make that abrupt change like that, speaks to his basketball I.Q. in a big way."

"He's grown up

a lot this season"

After Saturday's 59-56 win over New Mexico, Louisville's sixth in a row, Siva is averaging 9.2 points per game. He has 191 assists to 122 turnovers in 35 games.

"The one thing that really impressed me about him from day one was that he was a tremendous kid," Richard Pitino said. "But how good of a player would he be? That's always hard to predict. But I always thought he would be a great player down the road.

"He's grown up a lot this season. The one thing he's able to do now is handle adversity a lot better. He's always been an up-and-down kind of player, a high-risk, high-reward kind of player. But now beginning with the Big East tournament, he's become more solid, more reliable."

Brilliant. Solid. Special. Reliable.

Something about Peyton Siva inspires laudatory adjectives. But his father prefers a noun.

Peyton Siva is a life-saver.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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